The Georgian oligarch who played high stakes in a lethal game

We profile Badri Patarkatshisvili, the Georgian billionaire who died at his home in Surrey recently of an apparent heart attack.

"If you have ever seen Georgian food, you wonder why people who eat it on a regular basis live to be 20," noted one of Badri Patarkatshisvili's business associates after the billionaire oligarch's death, apparently from heart failure, last week. Stress also causes heart attacks and Patarkatshishvili had had a lifetime of it.

"His exotic journey to wealth, power and exile included high-stakes political gambles that would have left milder characters twitching in terror," says The Economist. And as a 52-year-old smoker, he wasn't far off average life expectancy for men of his background. Yet although the police, who swept his Surrey mansion for poison and radiation found nothing, the conspiracy theories continue.

"I have 120 bodyguards but I know that's not enough. I don't feel safe anywhere," the tycoon told The Daily Telegraph in December. Having openly plotted the overthrow of President Mikheil Saakashvili, he was convinced the Georgian state had hired Chechen hit-men to get him.

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But while amassing his £6bn fortune in Russia, Patarkatshishvili made plenty of other enemies. The friend and business partner of Boris Berezovsky a declared foe of the Putin regime he also had close links with both Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent poisoned by polonium in November 2006, and his alleged assassin, Andrei Lugovoi. In short, he was at the heart of the feud being waged between the Kremlin and the exiled oligarchs of "Londongrad".

Patarkshishvili might have been killed as an attempt to smear the Georgian government, or simply to put the wind up Berezovsky. Either way, says the Evening Standard, foul play cannot be ruled out. "A number of compounds known to be used by the former KGB can induce heart failure but leave virtually no trace."

Patarkatshishvili had effectively been on the run for years. He fled Russia with Berezovsky in 2001, amid allegations of fraud, and was initially welcomed back to Georgia. But after snapping up trophy assets, including its foremost media group (in which he co-invested with Rupert Murdoch), and its best football team and then stirring things up politically he soon found himself less than welcome.

In fact, he was born with his back to the wall, says The Guardian. Raised in Tibilsi, the son of Jewish intellectuals, he was bullied at school but showed an early enterprising streak when he got into the car repairs business as a teenager. But his chief path to influence was via the Soviet youth organisation, Komsomol. In the chaos following the fall of the Soviet Union, many of the contacts he made there beat a path to his door seeking car parts. Among them was Boris Berezovsky.

By 1989, the two men had forged an alliance that "gave birth to the companies that now dominate" Russia, says The Daily Telegraph. They went on to found oil group Sibneft and aluminium giant RusAl, before taking control of the privatised Aeroflot and several TV stations.

Patarkatshishvili's downfall came when he underestimated Vladimir Putin's fervour for purging oligarchs. Was he murdered or did he die naturally? It will be weeks before toxicology tests are complete and, even then, we may never know. But in seeking political revolution in Georgia and Russia, Patarkatshishvili was at the centre of a dangerous game, says the Evening Standard. "If he was a casualty, he is unlikely to be the last."

The exotic world of the super-rich

Patarkatshishvili's death in leafy Surrey highlights the "exotic and louche" world of super-rich foreigners who live in Britain and engage in politics abroad, says The Economist. Whatever the outcome of investigations into his death, it won't do anything to ameliorate Britain's already strained relationship with Russia. Yet even as talk of a new Cold War gains momentum, UK investors are charging into Russia, where stocks are tipped as a bargain compared to those of China and India and as a relatively safe haven from the subprime fallout. Are they mad?

Not according to Robin Geffen who runs the Neptune Russia fund. Say what you like about Putin's state-sponsored capitalism, he argues in Investment Adviser, but at least it has brought stability and prosperity. Russia's middle-class consumer base continues to grow, so too does its trade with China, ditto its infrastructure spend. And all these trends seem likely to continue under Putin's probable successor, Dmitri Medvedev.

For evidence of Russia's boom, take a look at the latest list of its top tycoons, says The Guardian. According to Finans magazine's annual survey, there are now 101 billionaires (compared to 61 last year) and the richest far outstrip the expat oligarchs: Oleg Deripaska, who heads the list with $40bn, is worth twice as much as Roman Abramovich.

One figure noticeably absent is Putin himself, whom some speculate may have amassed a huge personal fortune. If so, he's not admitting to it. Last week he dismissed such reports as "detritus excavated from someone's nostril and smeared across bits of paper".